Chapter ten: Second impressions
Slowly but steadily, the taxi drove through the place that had been my hometown during childhood. The place was colorful, a mixture of green, red, yellow and brown that only autumn could bring to the world. I could see the a few stubborn leaves clutching onto the trees, but most had already started falling down, twirling around in the autumn winds.
On the sidewalk, a few children were playing with the leaves. I saw them running after each other, laughing, and felt a short moment of nostalgia. This town was known for its many families with children, because of the peaceful atmosphere it possessed. It was just the kind of atmosphere that I needed right now.
The long car ride had calmed me down, as well as given me more time to think. My flight from the military base had, looking back on it, been a little extreme. Or maybe very extreme. But still, now that I was all the way out here, I felt no desire to turn around and go back.
‘Stop here, please,’ I said to the driver, as soon as we started to go uphill. Our previous house was just a few streets away from here, and suddenly I felt drawn towards it. I never did find out what had happened to it after we’d moved. Did someone else buy it, or had it been standing there empty for all this time? Maybe they demolished it, and built a playground, or something?
As soon as the taxi stopped, I handed over the driver’s payment and exited the vehicle. A breeze flew right past me, making me shiver. It promised to be a cold winter, indeed. I watched the taxi as it drove away and then turned around, starting to climb uphill.
It wasn’t long until our house came in sight. It was in poor shape, compared to all those years ago. The wood had paled, the windows were slammed shut and judging by the weeds growing everywhere, no-one else had lived there for quite a while.
I wanted to go inside. There was no key in my possession, but back when I was a child, we had a secret key hiding spot. Right by the window, underneath the flowerpot. Would it still be there?
Curiously, I walked across the bewildered garden until I’d reached the secret hiding place. I dug my fingers into the earth, lifting the flowerpot a little until I could see a metallic shine. The key was still there, after all this time! It had turned rusty and was party covered under dirt, but I dug I out and brushed it off with a tenderness that surprised myself. A short walk back through the weeds, and the door was open.
Just as I wanted to step inside, something moved to my left. There used to be a big tree and a dog house for Milow and Nina, but now there was just a bunch of bushes. That were moving. I quickly turned around, expecting a vampire to jump out at me. My hand grasped my thigh multiple times, trying to draw the gun that was still back in Zephyr Hills.
Right. I didn’t have any weapons with me. And what would I do with it, anyway? There was nothing dangerous here, anymore. Probably.
So I turned back around. And that turned out to be a huge mistake. Right after turning away from the bushes, something grey came out straight at me. I was thrown off guard and raised my fists to face it in that way, but then abruptly brought them back down again.
It was the same vampire boy from a day earlier. He looked exhausted, as if he’d been running all afternoon. His little sister was there, as well, clutching his hand tightly. They both looked up at me, the oldest one with a very calculating expression in his eyes.
‘What in the name of Maker are you doing here?’
I got no answer. They just stood there, silently. As if waiting for me to do something. I opened my mouth, closed it again, not knowing what to say. What was with this crazy situation? What were they doing here? Did they come back for me to get rid of them, or what?
In the distance, I could see a car coming closer. Not good. These two were drawing a lot of attention to themselves by just looking like that. If civilians saw them- or worse, if anyone from the media saw them, things would get very ugly very fast. I had to get them out of sight. But how was I supposed to do that?
‘Inside, quickly,’ I finally said, after frantically looking for a different option. I pushed the front door open and took a few steps back, gesturing to them to enter. The children were surprisingly obedient, not even questioning and asking why. The boy just did as commanded, pulling his sister along with him. He then deliberately placed himself between her and me, never once taking his eyes off me when going inside.
That was a really protective big brother.
The next moment we were inside, and I quickly closed the door. The car drove by without slowing down. I peeked through the window until I was sure that the coast was clear, before finally turning around to face the hallway.
It was not a pretty sight. There was dust everywhere, and all of the furniture was gone. The floor and walls, which used to be full of color, were now grey and dull and moist. Boxes lied piled up on top of each other, their contents seemingly forgotten.
But that was not the problem right now.
The problem was that there were no vampire children in sight anywhere.
I mentally scolded myself while walking further into the living room. What had I been thinking, turning my back to them like that? They were dangerous! Who knew where they’d gone- what if they were laying a trap for me somewhere, to take me out before I could do so to them? Ugh, I was so stupid! But I could still fix my mistake. If I just took them out right now-
A sound in the room next to the kitchen drew my attention. That had officially been Tori and Ceci’s bedroom, although we all switched beds every now and then. It had been our special way of sharing.
The two vampires waiting to ambush me there of all places filled me with anger, and strengthened my resolve to get rid of them this very instant. I tiptoed to the doorway and pressed myself against the wall next to it, peeking inside through the worn-down plastic material. Inside, partly hidden behind the desk, were the two children. So they were planning to ambush me. Once a beast, always a beast, was the thought that ran through my mind. I was about to slam the door down and pounce the oldest, when I saw what it was doing.
He was merely hugging his sister. She was whimpering, seemingly upset about something, and he patted her head repeatedly to calm her down.
‘We’ll be all right,’ I lip-read him saying through the plastic. He was comforting her? Why would he do that? Beast didn’t comfort each other. It was not within their killer instincts. Feeling sympathy and compassion for one another was not reserved for them, it was only… only for humans.
They were not like the vampires I’d previously encountered. They really were different, after all. I couldn’t wrap my head around it. But, for some reason I couldn’t even explain to myself, I wasn’t repulsed by it, as I should have been. No. It made me curious. About who- no, what they were, and where they came from. What had they been doing in that dark basement?
They were a mystery, a puzzle. Something that Tori and Ivan would have loved to solve, for sure. How would they react if they saw that there were two vampires hiding out in their bedroom?
Before I realized that my body was moving, I’d pushed the bedroom door open and stepped inside. The boy reacted immediately. He turned around faster than I could blink and made himself as large as possible, trying to shield his sister from view. There was definitely a story there to be told. But what? And why?
‘You… you can talk, right?’ I spoke to the boy, after hesitating for a few seconds. He frowned at me and nodded, not bothering to open his mouth.
‘And the girl behind you- can she speak, too?’
Another nod, although the look in his eyes had undoubtedly become more hostile now that I was addressing the little girl. Both of their eyes and her hair looked a lot more… fiery in the little daylight that fell in through the window. I risked the boy’s anger and took a better look at her face. She looked sad. It reminded me of a child that was about to start wailing, although for some reason I couldn’t imagine her crying like that. In the short time that I’d known her, even her whimpering had been without sound.
Maybe she was a mute?
‘Is she scared?’ I asked, cautiously breaking the silence. I half expected the boy to just nod again, as he didn’t seem to want to waste words on me. But instead, he shook his head and then opened his mouth, revealing not two, but six sharp fangs.
That one sentence had the effect of a bomb going off next to me. I jumped back and once again tried to draw my gun, noticing a second later that it wasn’t there. Was he threatening me? He was, wasn’t he?!
‘I’m not going to be her feeding source, if that’s what you think, vampire!’ I spat at him. He looked at me confused for a while, and then his frown returned.
Now it was my turn to be confused. I’d never seen a vampire drink water- I’d never seen them consume anything other than blood, actually. What did that mean? Did the bloodlust maybe come later, when they were grown up?
…No, that didn’t seem to be the case. Then they wouldn’t have those fangs yet. It would make sense if they were like deer, with the horns growing in at adulthood, when they were needed…
‘Water… do you have it?’ The boy asked, snapping me out of my thoughts.
‘Uhh, er, yes, probably… does she need a bottle?’
There was that confused look again. As if he didn’t understand what I was talking about. And that made no sense, because by now I was pretty sure he was at least at a human-leveled intelligence.
‘Just wait here,’ I said, eventually. ‘Don’t leave the room. I’ll be right back… and you better still be in here then, you hear?’
I didn’t wait for an answer and walked backwards out of the room, not losing the two children out of my sight until the door was closed again. This really, truly, was the weirdest situation I’d been in yet. The two were intriguing, though, and for some reason I couldn’t leave them alone. So I searched in and around the crates until I found what I was looking for: an old, worn-down baby bottle. The plastic had turned from white to green, but the inside seemed to be fine.
I took the bottle to the bathroom with me and filled it with water, surprised that the house was still connected to the water supply of this town. Now that I thought about it, the electricity was still working, too. Maybe they’d just forgotten to take it away?
With a freshly filled bottle, I cautiously made my way back to the bedroom. The boy and girl were still there, in the exact same spot as a few minutes ago. They didn’t seem to have moved a single muscle.
‘I’ve brought water,’ I said, holding out the bottle. I didn’t expect the boy to allow me to hand it to his sister, and I was not proven wrong. He slowly walked up to me, step by step, while looking up at me that made me think of a rabbit, ready to run away at the slightest movement.
The next moment, the bottle was out of my hand and the boy jumped back to the corner of the room, screwing the top off the bottle. He took a tiny sip of the water, waited, and then gave it to the girl.
Testing for poison, maybe? I felt slightly offended. Even as a vampire killer, I wouldn’t do something as lowly as slip something in a child’s drinking bottle. There were limits to the bad deeds a person could do.
The girl started drinking, with such a big look of relief that I realized she must have been parched. Had they come walking all this way, or something? I couldn’t imagine him calling a taxi. Or did some other vampire bring them here, for whatever purpose those two had in mind?
I wanted to know more. I wanted to communicate with them. But I didn’t know how to phrase it, and before I could stop myself an entirely different question had already left my mouth.
‘What’s your name?’
Eyes full of suspicion turned back, and then away from me. They showed reluctance to tell, if he already had a name. But for some reason I was sure that he did.
I blinked a few times. It wasn’t that much of an unusual name, but the way he pronounced it made it sound like a completely foreign language. A bit like how Ancient Simlish sounded, actually.
‘And her? What’s her n-‘
I’d pointed my finger at the little girl, and was immediately regretful that I did. He jumped in front of her again and bared his fangs, hissing at me like an enraged cobra.
‘Okay, okay, easy,’ I quickly said, stepping backwards. I raised my hands with their palms directed at the boy. ‘I’ll stop asking about her. Take it easy, Nicola.’
‘No,’ he said, shaking his head, but with a much calmer attitude now that I wasn’t targeting his precious sister anymore. ‘Not like that. It’s Nikola. Ni-ko-laaa.’
‘Ni-ko-laaa,’ I mimicked, slightly amused by his seriousness about his name. ‘I think I’ve got it.’
There were sounds outside of the house. It sounded like children, running past the building’s backyard. I turned my head and tried to see where they were, when I noticed Nikola once again stepping closer to me.
‘Stay back!’ I sneered, remembering the sharp fangs in his mouth. This time it was him jumping back, with his arms raised in the exact same way as I’d done.
‘Just don’t get so close. What do you want? More water?’
‘No. Your name.’
That was a surprise. So the child didn’t only have a name, he had manners, as well. And he was right. It was unfair of me to know his name, while he didn’t have a clue about mine.
‘It’s Raven,’ I mumbled.
Nikola nodded, his gaze once again drifting off to the place where his sister was sitting on the floor. I could see her bottle was almost empty. He looked at the drops on her chin with a thirsty expression on his face, and I realized he had to be just as parched as she was. I just hoped it was thirst for water, as well.
‘I’ll get you some water, too, if you want,’ I said, drawing his attention back. He stared at me for a moment, and then nodded. I nodded back and once again walked backwards out of the room, although for some reason the fear of them attacking me had become less.
Could it be… could it be that they were just looking for shelter? And with me, of all people. They had to know I was a vampire hunter- they’d seen my gun, for Maker’s sake. How was I supposed to act in a situation like this? As far as I knew, there was no protocol for this kind of thing.
What on earth was I supposed to do?